1491785202919 - University of Auckland and Auckland Council called on to divest fossil fuels

University of Auckland and Auckland Council called on to divest fossil fuels

Auckland Council and the University of Auckland are being called on to pull investments in coal, oil and gas.

On Tuesday climate group 350 Aotearoa will ask Auckland Council to halt all new investments in fossil fuels and divest existing investments within three years. 

Last week more than 100 students from the Auckland University Medical Students Association rallied against the University of Auckland for investing in fossil fuels.

The rally was part of a so far unsuccessful two-year campaign led by university group Fossil Free UoA to stop the university investing in fossil fuels. 

READ MORE: * Protestors rally in Auckland against ANZ’s investment in fossil fuels * Protest at oil industry scientist’s University of Canterbury lecture * Climate change ‘most serious’ environmental issue for New Zealand – report

A United Nations report published in December said $5.2 trillion had been divested from the industry by 688 organisations across 76 countries since 2011. 

350 Aotearoa spokesperson Niam O’Flynn said it believed council would divest. 

“If they do not decide to divest our campaign is just starting to shift to a more public focus, so we will begin the public pressure aspect to our campaign,” O’Flynn said.  

O’Flynn said cities like Paris, San Francisco and Sydney had divested and in New Zealand Dunedin had divested while Christchurch had partially divested. 

After 350 Aotearoa presents a petition on Tuesday council will decide whether to approve a revised responsible investment policy. 

​The proposed policy states council should seek investments which restrict exposure to companies that had operations involving weapons, tobacco, fossil fuels, and revenue generated from gambling.

While the council could modify its policy, University of Auckland said it was more focused on direct contributions to the environment.

A university spokesperson said it had no jurisdiction over the University of Auckland Foundation, which was responsible for investments, but it had a strong commitment to sustainability.​

As part of its strategy the university was seeking to reduce energy consumption, waste and carbon dioxide, the spokesperson said.  

“We are working hard to achieve these objectives and believe that they will make a direct, rather than token, contribution to environmental sustainability,” the spokesperson said. 

The spokesperson said it was unclear what constituted a fossil fuels company since many companies had mixed activities. 

However, University of Otago and Victoria University of Wellington have divested and University of Canterbury has partially divested. 

Fossil Free UoA estimated $1 million of the $108m in the University of Auckland Foundation was invested in the fossil fuel industry. 

Fossil Free UoA spokesperson Alex Johnston said vice-chancellor Stuart McCutcheon was using practicalities to sidestep the problem. 

“If he’s happy with the university’s reputation being tarnished by funding climate change that’s showing a real lack of leadership on his part,” Johnston said. 

Johnston said if McCutcheon was not willing to order a divestment in fossil fuel investments then he was complicit in funding climate change.